Monday, July 31, 2023

Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy. Lecture 2. The Trinitarian Human Being : Imagination, Inspiration, Intuition : Dying into Eternal Life


"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."  ~John 17:3

Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy. Lecture 2.

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 3, 1921:

Before I begin, let me emphasize that this lecture does not form part of the sequence of lectures presented in the context of the courses, [Note 1] but in a certain respect is intended to relate to what I have outlined yesterday evening. There, we dealt with studying that particular form of development within humanity's historical evolution that occurred in the middle and also in the second half of the nineteenth century; the evolutionary impulse of materialism. I said that in these considerations our attention should not be turned so much to materialism in general, which calls for other viewpoints, but rather to theoretical materialism, to materialism as a world view. I drew attention to the fact that this materialism must be confronted with a sufficiently critical mind, but that, on the other hand, materialism has been a necessary phase of evolution in the history of mankind.
We cannot simply speak of rejecting it and say that it is an aberration; materialism needs to be understood. For the one does not exclude the other. Particularly in these reflections it is important to extend the sphere of thoughts relating to truth and error further than is ordinarily the case. It is generally said that in the logical life of thoughts it is possible either to err or to find the truth. What is not mentioned is that under certain circumstances the glance we cast upon the external world may discover errors in outer reality. Difficult though it may be for modern thought to admit to errors in the events of nature — something that spiritual science has to do — it is obvious for people today to admit that there are actual errors in the results that arise in the course of the historical development and manifest themselves, so to speak, in the communal, social sphere. These errors cannot be corrected by mere logic, but demand comprehension based on the conditions that gave rise to them.
In thinking, all we have to do is reject error. We have to extricate ourselves from error and, overcoming it, reach truth. But in the case of errors rooted in the factual realm we must always say that they also have a positive aspect and are of value in a certain sense for the development of mankind. Theoretical materialism of the nineteenth century should therefore not merely be condemned in a narrow, one-sided manner; instead, we should grasp its significance in human evolution.
Theoretical materialism consisted in the fact — and what remained of it still consists in this — that man devotes himself to a conscientious and exact investigation of the external material facts, that in a certain sense he loses himself in this world of facts. Then, proceeding from this investigation of facts, he attains to a view of life that tends to the conclusion that there is no other reality except the world of facts, and that everything pertaining to soul and spirit is, after all, merely a product of the material course of events. Even a conception of life such as this was necessary during a certain epoch of time, and the only danger would be a rigid adherence to it so that it could influence the further development of humanity in an age when other contents have to enter human consciousness.
Let us try today and investigate the actual basis of this evolutionary impulse leading to theoretical materialism. We come to it when, from a certain standpoint, we picture once more the threefold nature of the human organism. [Note 2] I have characterized it on many occasions. I have said: We must distinguish within the whole organization of the human being the part that, in regard to his physical being, may be designated as the organization of the senses and nerves. This is chiefly concentrated in the human head, but in a certain sense it extends over the whole human organism, also penetrating the other parts of it. As a second member we have the rhythmical organization. We encounter it chiefly in the rhythm of breathing and in the circulation of the blood. The third part in a wider sense is the metabolic organization of the human being, including the whole system of the human limbs. The human limb system is a system of movement, and every form of movement is basically an expression of our metabolic processes. One day, when people will investigate more closely what really takes place in the metabolic processes whenever the human being moves, they will discover the intimate connection between the limb system and the metabolic system.
In considering these three systems in the human being, we have, first of all, pointed out the fundamental difference between them. I have already drawn your attention yesterday to the fact that, by means of the same drawing, two men with entirely different world views wanted to clarify matters relating to the human head organization as well as to the processes of human thinking. I pointed out that it so happened that I was once present at a lecture given by an extreme materialist. He wished to describe the life of the soul, but he actually described the human brain, the individual sections of the brain, the connecting fibers, and so on. He arrived at a certain picture, but this picture he drew on the blackboard was, for him, only the expression of what goes on materially and physically in the human brain. At the same time, he saw in it the expression of soul life, particularly the conceptual life. Another man, a philosopher of the school of Herbart, spoke of thoughts, of associations of thoughts, of the effect one thought has upon another, etc., and he said he could make use of the same picture on the blackboard. Here, quite empirically, I should say, we encounter something most interesting. It is this: that somebody for whom the observation of the soul life is something quite real, at least in his thoughts — this must always be added in case of Herbartianism — clarifies to himself the activity of the soul life by using the same picture employed by the other lecturer, who depicts the soul life by trying to set forth only the processes in the human brain.
Now, what lies at the foundation of this? The fact is that in its plastic configuration the human brain is indeed an extraordinarily faithful replica of what we know as the life of thought. In the plastic configuration of the human brain, the life of thought really does express itself, we might almost say, in an adequate manner. In order to follow this thought to its conclusion, however, something else is needed. What ordinary psychology and also Herbart's psychology designate as chains of thoughts, as thought associations in the form of judgments, logical conclusions and so on, should not remain a mere idea. At least in our imagination — even if we cannot rise to clairvoyant Imaginations — we should allow it to culminate in a picture; the tapestry of logic, the tapestry presented to us by psychology of the life of thought, the teaching of the soul life, should be allowed to culminate in a picture. If we are in fact able to transform logic and psychology in a picture-like, plastic way into an image, then the human configuration of the brain will emerge. Then we shall have traced a picture, the realization of which is the human brain.
On what is this based? It is based on the fact that the human brain, indeed the whole system of nerves and senses, is a replica of an Imaginative element. [Note 3] We completely grasp the wonderful structure of the human brain only when we learn to investigate Imaginatively. Then, the human brain appears as a realized human Imagination. Imaginative perception teaches us to become familiar with the external brain, the brain we come to know through psychology and anatomy, as a realized Imagination. This is significant.
Another fact is no less important. Let us bear in mind that the human brain is an actual human Imagination. We are indeed born with a brain, if not a fully developed one, at least with a brain containing the tendencies of growth. It tries to develop to the point of being a realized Imaginative world, to be the impression of an Imaginative world. This is, as it were, the ready-made aspect of our brain, namely, that it is the replica of an Imaginative world. Into this impression of the Imaginative world we then build the conceptual experiences attained during the time between birth and death. During this period we have conceptual experiences; we conceive, we transform the sense perceptions into thoughts; we judge, we conclude, and so on. We fit this into our brain. What kind of activity is this?
As long as we live in immediate perception, as long as we remain in the interplay with the external world, as long as we open our eyes to the colors and dwell in this relationship with colors, as long as we open our organs of hearing to sounds and live within them, the external world lives on in us by penetrating our organism through the senses as through channels. With our inner life, we encompass this external world. But the moment we cease to have this immediate experience of the outer world — something I already called your attention to yesterday — the moment we turn our eye away from the world of colors, allow our ear to become inattentive to the resounding of the external world, the moment we turn our senses to something else, this concreteness — our interplay with the external world in perceiving — penetrates into the depths of our soul. It may then be drawn to the surface again in the form of pictures by memory. We may say that during our life between birth and death insofar as our thought life is concerned, our interplay with the external world consists of two parts: the immediate experience of the external world in the form of perceptions and the transformed thoughts. We surrender, as it were, completely to the present; our inner activity loses itself in the present. Then, however, this immediate activity continues. To begin with, it is not accessible to our consciousness. It sinks down into the subconscious but may be drawn to the surface again into memory. In what form, then, does it exist in us?
This is a point that can be explained only by a direct view attainable in Imagination. A person who honestly pursues his way in his scientific striving cannot help but admit to himself that the moment the riddle of memory confronts him he cannot advance another step in his research. For due to the fact that the experiences of the immediate present sink down into the subconscious, they become inaccessible to ordinary consciousness; they cannot be traced further.
But when we work in a corresponding way upon the human soul by means of the soul-spiritual exercises that have frequently been discussed in my lectures, we reach a stage where we no longer lose sight of the continuations of our direct life of perceptions and thoughts into conceptions that make memories possible. I have often explained to you that the first result of an ascent to Imaginative thinking is to have before your soul, as a mighty life-tableau, all your experiences since birth. The stream of experience normally flows along in the unconscious, and the single representations, which emerge in memory, rise up from this unconscious or subconscious stream through a half-dreamy activity. Those who have developed Imaginative perception are offered the opportunity to survey the stream of experiences as in one picture. You could say that the time that has elapsed since birth then takes on the appearance of space. What is normally within the subconscious is then beheld in the form of interconnected pictures. When the experiences that otherwise escape into the subconscious are thus raised to direct vision, we are able to observe this continuation of present, immediate perceptual and thought experiences all the way into conceptions that can be remembered. It is possible to trace what happens in us to any sort of experience we have in our mind, from the point in time when we first lose sight of it until the moment we recall it again. After all, between experiencing something and remembering it again something is taking place continuously in the human organism, something that becomes visible to imaginative perception. It is possible to view it in Imaginations, but it is now revealed in a quite special way.
The thoughts that have lost themselves, as it were, in the subconscious region stimulate an activity connected with our life-impulses, our impulses of growth; they stimulate an activity in us that is related to our impulse of death. The significant result revealing itself to Imaginative perception in the way I could only allude to today is the following: Human beings do not connect the memory-activity, leading to the renewal of thinking, of thought and perceptual experiences, with what calls us into physical life and maintains digestion in this life, so that substances that have become useless are replaced by usable ones, and so on. The power of memory that descends into the human being is not related to this ascending life system in man. It is linked to something we also bear within us ever since our birth, something we are born with just as we are born with the forces through which we live and grow. It is connected with what then appears to us, concentrated into one moment, in regard to the whole organism in dying.
Death only appears as a great riddle as long as it is not observed within the continuous stream of life from birth to death. Expressing myself paradoxically, I might say that we die not only when we die. In reality, we die at every moment of our physical life. By developing within our organism the activity leading to memory as recollective thinking — and in ordinary physical life every form of cognition is actually linked up with memory — insofar as this cognition is developed, we die continuously. A subtle form of death, proceeding from our head organization, is forever going on within us. By carrying out this activity that continues on into memory, we constantly begin the act of dying. But the forces of growth existing in the other members of the human organism counteract this process of death; they overcome the death forces. Thus we maintain life. If we only depended on our head organization, on the system of nerves and senses, each moment in life would really become a moment of death for us. As human beings we continuously vanquish death, which streams out, as it were, from our head to the remaining organism. The latter counteracts this form of death. Only when the remaining organization becomes weakened, exhausted through age or some kind of damage, thus preventing the counteraction against the death-bearing forces of the human head, only then does death set in for the whole organism.
Indeed, in our modern thinking, in the thinking of today's civilization, we really work with concepts that lie side by side like erratic blocks, without being able to correctly recognize their interrelationship. Light must enter into this chaos of erratic blocks constituting our world of concepts and thoughts. On the one hand, we have human cognition which is so intimately tied to the faculty of memory. We observe this human cognition and have no idea of its kinship to our conception of death. And because we are completely ignorant of this relationship, what could otherwise be deciphered in life remains so enigmatic. We are unable to connect the experiences of everyday life with the great extraordinary moments of experience. The insufficient spiritual view over what lies around as fragmentary blocks in our conceptual world brings it about that despite the splendid achievements of the nineteenth century life has gradually become so obscure.
Let us now consider the second system, the second member of the human organization, the rhythmical organization. It is also present in the human head organization. The interior of the human head breathes together with the breathing organism. This is an external physiological fact. But the breathing process of the human head lies, as it were, more within; it conceals itself from the system of nerves and senses. It is covered over by what constitutes the chief task of the head organization. Still, the human head has its own concealed rhythmical activity. This activity becomes evident mainly in the human chest organization, in those processes of the human organism that are centered in the organs of breathing and in the heart.
When we observe the outward appearance of this organization, unlike in the case of the head organization, we cannot see in it a kind of plastic image for what exists as its counterpart in the soul, namely, the life of feeling. When we observe the soul experiences, our feelings manifest as something more or less undefined. We have sharp contours in our thoughts. We also have clear concepts of thought associations. In the details pertaining to our life of feeling we have no such sharp outlines. There, everything interpenetrates, moves and lives. You will not find an Herbartian who, in making an outline of the life of emotion, would characterize this in a sketch that might resemble one drawn by an anatomist or a physiologist for the lungs or the heart and circulatory system. Here, you find that such a relationship does not exist between the inner soul element and the outer aspects. This is also the reason why Imaginative cognition does not suffice to bring before the soul this relationship between the soul's life of feeling and the rhythmical system. For this we need what I have characterized in my books as Inspiration, Inspirative perception. This special form of perception through Inspiration attains to the insight that our emotional life has a direct link to the rhythmical system. Just as the system of nerves and senses is linked to the conceptual life, so the rhythmical life is linked to the life of feelings.
But, metaphorically speaking, the rhythmical system is not the wax impression of the emotional life in the same way that the brain's configuration is the wax impression of the conceptual life. Consequently we cannot say that our rhythmical system is an Imaginative replica of our life of feeling. We must say instead that what unfolds and lives in us as the rhythmical system has come about through cosmic Inspiration, independently of any human knowledge. It is inspired into us. The activity carried out in the breathing and in the blood circulation is not merely something that lives within us enclosed by our skin; it is a cosmic event, like lightning and thunder. After all, through our rhythmical system, we are connected with the outer world. The air that is now within me was outside before; it will be outside again the next moment. It is an illusion to believe that we only live enclosed within our skin. We live as a member of the world that surrounds us, and the form of our rhythmical system, which is closely connected to our movements, is inspired into us out of this world.
Summing this up, we can say: As the basis of the human head we have, first of all, the realization of an Imaginative world. Then, in a manner of speaking, below what thus realizes itself as an Imaginative world, we have the realm of the rhythmical system, an Inspired world. Concerning our rhythmical system, we can only say: An Inspirative world is realized within it.
How do matters stand in regard to our metabolic system, our limb-system? Metabolism belongs together with the limb-system, as I have pointed out already. Our metabolic processes stand in a direct relationship with our volitional activity. But this relationship reveals itself neither to Imaginative nor to Inspirative perception. It discloses itself only to Intuitive cognition, to what I have described in my books as “Intuitive knowledge.” This explains the difficulty of seeing in the external physical processes of metabolism the realization of a cosmic Intuition. This metabolism, however, is also present in the rhythmical system. The metabolism of the rhythmical system conceals itself behind the life-rhythm, just as the life-rhythm conceals itself behind the activity of nerves and senses in the human head.
In the case of the human head we have a realized Imaginative world; hidden behind it a realized Inspirative world in regard to the rhythm in the head. Still further behind this, there is the metabolism of the head, hence a realized Intuitive element. Thus we can comprehend our head, if we see in it the confluence of the realized Imaginative, Inspired, and Intuitive elements. In the human rhythmical system the Imaginative is omitted; there we have only the realization of the Inspired and Intuitive elements. And in the metabolic system Inspiration, too, is omitted; there, we are dealing only with the realization of a cosmic Intuition.
In the threefold human organism, we thus bear within us first the organization of the head, a replica of what we strive for in cognition through Imagination, Inspiration, and Intuition. In trying to understand the human head, we should really have to admit to ourselves that with mere external, objective knowledge gained through the observation of the outer sensory world, which is not even Imagination and does not rise up to the Intuitive element, we should stop short of the human head. For the inner being of the human head begins to disclose itself only to Imaginative knowledge; behind this lies something still deeper that reveals itself to Inspiration. In turn, behind this, lies something that makes itself known to Intuitive knowledge. The rhythmical system is not even accessible to Imagination. It reveals itself only to Inspirative cognition, and what is concealed beneath it is the Intuitive element. Within the human organism, we certainly ought to find metabolism incomprehensible. The true standpoint in regard to the human metabolism can be none other than the following. We can only say that we observe the metabolic processes of the external world; we try to penetrate into them with the aid of the laws of objective perception. Thus we attain knowledge of the external metabolism in nature. The instant this outer metabolism is transformed and metamorphosed into our inner metabolism it becomes something quite different; it turns into something in which dwells the element that discloses itself only to Intuition.
We would therefore have to say: In the world that presents itself to us as the sensory realm, the most incomprehensible of all incomprehensible problems is what the substances, with which we become familiar externally through physics and chemistry, accomplish within the human skin. We would have to admit: we must rise up to the highest spiritual comprehension if we want to know what really takes place within the human organism in regard to the substances we know so well in their external aspects in the world outside.
Thus we see that in the structure of our organism there are, to begin with, three different activities. First of all, something that discloses itself to Intuitive knowledge is active in the structure of the human organism, building it up out of the world's substances. In addition something is active in this organism that reveals itself to Inspirative knowledge; it fits the rhythmical system into the metabolic organism. Finally, something is active in the human organism that reveals itself to Imaginative knowledge; it builds in the nervous system. And when this human organism enters through birth into the external physical world, all that is ready-made, as it were, by virtue of its own nature, then evolves further inasmuch as human beings develop objective knowledge between birth and death.
Concerning this objective knowledge we have seen that it is tied to the activity of memory; it is not connected with constructive but with destructive forces. We have seen that this form of knowledge is a slow dying proceeding from the head. We may therefore say that the human organism was built up through what could be comprehended by means of Intuition, Inspiration, and Imagination. This dwells in this human organism in a manner inaccessible to present-day cognition. On the other hand, what is built into our organism between birth and death by means of our objective insights breaks down and destroys this organism. We actually think and form concepts on the basis of this destruction when we unfold our conceptual life, the life of thoughts.
We really cannot be materialists when we comprehend what this knowledge, so intimately linked with the faculty of memory, consists of. For if we wanted to be materialists, we would have to imagine that we are built up by forces of growth; that those forces are active that absorb the substances and transmit them to the various organs in order to bring about, in a wider sense, the digestive processes within our organism. We should have to picture this faculty, inherent in growth, digestion, and the constructive forces in general, continuing and culminating somewhere in the conceptual process, in thinking which arrives at objective knowledge. Yet this is not the case. The human organism is built up through something that is accessible to Intuition, to Inspiration, and to Imagination. Our organism is built up when it has absorbed these forces into itself. But then regression begins, the process of decay, and what brings this decay about is ordinary knowledge between birth and death.
Through the processes of ordinary perception we do not build anything into the constructive forces; rather, by destroying what has been built up, we create, first of all, the foundations for a continuous element of death in ourselves. Into this continuing element of death we place our knowledge. We do not immerse ourselves in material elements when we think; no, we destroy the material element. We hand it over to the forces of death. We think our way into death, into the destruction of life. Thinking, ordinary perception, is not related to growing, budding life. It is related to death, and when we observe human perception, we do not find an analogy for it in the natural formations including the human brain. We discover an analogy only in the corpse that decays after death. For what the decaying body represents, I might say, intensively, in a certain greatness, must continuously take place within us when we perceive objectively in the ordinary sense of the word.
Look upon death if you wish to comprehend the cognitive process. Do not look upon life in a materialistic manner; look upon what represents the negation, the elimination, of life. Then you arrive at a comprehension of thinking. To be sure, what we call death then acquires an entirely different meaning; based on life it attains to a different significance.
Even external phenomena enable us to grasp such things. Yesterday, I said to you that the culmination of the materialistic world view lies in the middle or in the last third of the nineteenth century. This culmination viewed death as something that must absolutely be rejected. In a sense people at that time felt noble by viewing death in this way, as ending life. Life alone they wanted to consider and wished to see it as ending with death. Frequently, one looks back somewhat disdainfully upon the “child-like folk-consciousness.” Take the word “verwesen,” (to decompose) which points to the process of what occurs after death. The prefix “ver” always indicates a movement towards what the word expresses. “Verbruedern” (to become like brothers, to fraternize) means to move in the direction of becoming brothers; “versammeln” (to gather together) indicates moving in the direction of gathering, of meeting. In the vernacular, “verwesen” does not mean decomposing, ceasing to be; it means moving in the direction of Wesen, of being, of life. Such word formations, connected with a spiritual way of grasping the world during the epoch of instinctive knowledge, have become exceedingly rare. In the nineteenth century people materialized everything; they no longer lived in the spiritual essence permeating the word. Many examples could be cited to show that the culmination of materialism became evident even in speech.
We can therefore understand that after the human being had been developed, as I said yesterday, to a point of culmination by forces that disclose themselves to Inspiration, Intuition, and Imagination, he then attained to the highest culmination in the nineteenth century, followed in turn by a decadence. We can understand that the human being distanced himself, as it were, from the power enabling him to comprehend himself inwardly by developing in the strongest measure the forces that, as conceptual forces, are most akin to death, the forces of abstraction. It is from this point that it is possible, proceeding from today's lecture, to advance to what constitutes the actual, essential impulse within what we may call the materialistic impulse of knowledge in human history.

Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy. Lecture 1

Clinging to the material

"If it is correct to say that in the middle of the nineteenth century materialism was in a certain sense a test mankind had to undergo, it is equally correct to say that the persistent adherence to materialism is bound to work terrible harm now, and that all the catastrophes befalling the world and humanity that we have to experience are due to the fact that a great majority of people still try to cling to materialism."

Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy. Lecture 1.

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, April 2, 1921:

It was in the middle and second half of the nineteenth century that materialism had its period of greatest development. In today's lecture we will center our interest more on the theoretical side of this materialistic evolution. A great deal of what I shall have to say about the theoretical aspect can also be said in almost the same words of the more practical aspect of materialism. For the moment, however, we will leave that aside and turn our attention more to the materialistic world conception that was prevalent in the civilized world in the middle and second half of the nineteenth century.
We shall find that we are here concerned with a twofold task. First, we have to gain a clear perception of the extent to which this materialistic world view is to be opposed, of how we must be armed with all the concepts and ideas enabling us to refute the materialistic world view as such. But in addition to being armed with the necessary conceptions, we find that from the point of view of spiritual science we are required at the same time to do something more, namely, to understand this materialistic world view. First of all, we must understand it in its content; secondly, we must also understand how it came about that such an extreme materialistic world view was ever able to enter human evolution.
It may sound contradictory to say that it is required of man on the one hand to be able to fight the materialistic world view, and on the other hand to be able to understand it. But those who base themselves on spiritual science will not find any contradiction here; it is merely an apparent one. For the case is rather like this. In the course of the evolution of mankind moments must needs come when human beings are in a sense pulled down, brought below a certain level, in order that they may later by their own efforts lift themselves up again. And it would really be of no help to mankind at all if by some divine decree or the like it could be protected from having to undergo these low levels of existence. In order for human beings to attain to full use of their powers of freedom, it is absolutely necessary that they descend to the low levels in their world conception as well as in their life. The danger does not lie in the fact that something like this appears at the proper time, and for theoretical materialism this was the middle of the nineteenth century. The danger consists in the fact that if something like this has happened in the course of normal evolution, people then continue to adhere to it, so that an experience that was necessary for one particular point in time is carried over into later times. If it is correct to say that in the middle of the nineteenth century materialism was in a certain sense a test mankind had to undergo, it is equally correct to say that the persistent adherence to materialism is bound to work terrible harm now, and that all the catastrophes befalling the world and humanity that we have to experience are due to the fact that a great majority of people still tries to cling to materialism.
What does theoretical materialism really signify? It signifies the view regarding the human being primarily as the sum of the material processes of his physical body. Theoretical materialism has studied all the processes of the physical, sensory body, and although what has been attained in this study is still more or less in its first beginnings, final conclusions have nevertheless already been drawn from it in regard to a world view. Man has been explained as the confluence of these physical forces; his soul nature is declared to be merely something that is produced through the workings of these physical forces. It is theoretical materialism, however, that initiated investigation of the physical nature of the human being, and it is this, the extensive examination of man's physical nature, that must remain. On the other hand, what the nineteenth century drew as a conclusion from this physical research is something that must not be allowed to figure as more than a passing phenomenon in human evolution. And as a passing phenomenon, let us now proceed to understand it.
What is really involved here? When we look back in the evolution of mankind — and with the help of what I have given in Occult Science [Note 1] we are able to look back rather far — we can see that the human being has passed through the greatest variety of different stages. Even if we limit our observation to what has taken place in the course of earth evolution, we are bound to conclude that this human being started with a form that was quite primitive in comparison to its present form, and that this form then underwent gradual change, approaching ever nearer to the form the human being possesses today. As long as we focus on the rough outline of the human form, the differences will not appear to be so great in the course of human history. When we compare with the means at the disposal of external history, the form of an ancient Egyptian or even an ancient Indian with the form of a man of present-day European civilization, we will discover only relatively small differences, as long as we stay with the rough outlines or superficial aspects of observation. For such a rough viewpoint, the great differences in regard to the primitive forms of development emerge only in early man in prehistoric ages.
When we refine our observation, however, when we begin to study what is hidden from outer view, then what I have said no longer holds good. For then we are obliged to admit that a great and significant difference exists between the organism of a civilized man of the present and the organism of an ancient Egyptian, or even an ancient Greek or Roman. And although the change has come about in a much more subtle and delicate manner in historical times, there has most assuredly been such change in regard to all the finer forming and shaping of the human organism. This subtle change reached a certain culmination in the middle of the nineteenth century. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is nevertheless a fact that in regard to his inner structure, in regard to what the human organism can possibly attain, man had reached perfection at about the middle of the nineteenth century. Since then, a kind of decadence has set in. Since that time, the human organism has been involved in retrogression. Therefore, also in the middle of the nineteenth century, the organs that serve as the physical organs of human intellectual activity had reached perfection in their development.
What we call the intellect of man requires, of course, physical organs. In earlier ages, these physical organs were far less developed than they were in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is true that what arouses our admiration when we contemplate the Greek spirit, particularly in such advanced Greeks as Plato and Aristotle, is dependent on the fact that the Greeks did not have such perfect organs of thinking, in the purely physical sense, as had men of the nineteenth century. Depending on one's preference, one might say, “Thank heaven that people in Greek times did not possess thinking organs that were as perfect as those of the people in the nineteenth century!” If on the other hand, one is a pedant like those of the nineteenth century, wishing to cling to this pedantry, then one can say, “Well, the Greeks were just children, they did not have the perfect organs of thought that we have; accordingly, we must look with an indulgent eye upon what we find in the works of Plato and Aristotle.” School teachers often speak in this vein, for in their criticism they feel vastly superior to Plato and Aristotle. You will only fully understand what I have just indicated, however, if you make the acquaintance of people — and there are such! — who have a kind of vision that one may call, in the best sense of the word, a clairvoyant consciousness.
In such people, the presence of clairvoyant consciousness — if there are any in the audience who possess a measure of it, they will please forgive me for telling what is the plain truth — is due to the inadequate development of the organs of intellect. It is quite a common occurrence in our day to meet people who have a measure of clairvoyant consciousness and possess extraordinarily little of what is today called scientific intellect. True as this is, it is equally true that what these clairvoyant people are able to say or write down through their own faculty of perception, may contain thoughts far cleverer than the thoughts of people who show no signs whatever of clairvoyance but function with the best possible organs of intellect. It may easily happen that clairvoyant people who, from the point of view of present- day science are quite stupid — please forgive this expression — produce thoughts cleverer than the thoughts of recognized scientists without being themselves any the cleverer for producing them! This actually occurs. And to what is it due? It comes about because such clairvoyant persons do not need to exercise any organs of thought in order to arrive at the clever thoughts. They create the corresponding images out of the spiritual world, and the images already have within them the thoughts. There they are, ready-made, while other people who are not clairvoyant and can only think have to develop their organs of thought first before they can develop any thoughts. If we were to sketch this, it would be like this. Suppose a clairvoyant person brings something out of the spiritual world in all manner of pictures (see drawing, red). But in it, thoughts are contained, a network of thoughts. The person in question does not think this out, instead, he sees it, bringing it along from the spiritual world. He has no occasion to exercise any organ of thought.
Consider another person who is not gifted with clairvoyance, but who can think. Of all that has been drawn in red below, there is nothing at all present in him. He does not bring any such thing out of the spiritual world. Neither does he bring this thought skeleton with him out of the spiritual world (see drawing on left). He exerts his organs of thinking and through them produces this thought skeleton (see drawing).
Diagram 1
In observing human beings today, one can find everywhere examples of all the stages between these two extremes. For one who has not trained his faculty of observation, it is nevertheless most difficult to distinguish whether a person is actually clever, in the sense that he thinks by means of his organs of reason, or whether he does not think with them at all, but instead by some means brings something into his consciousness, so that only the pictorial, imaginative element is developed in him, but so feebly that he himself is not even aware of it. Thus, there are any number of people today who produce most clever thoughts without having to be clever on that account, while others think very clever thoughts but have no special connection to any spiritual world. To learn to apprehend this distinction is one of the important psychological tasks of our age, and it affords the basis for important insight into human beings at the present time. With this explanation you will no longer find it difficult to understand that empirical super-sensible observation shows that the majority of mankind possessed the most perfectly developed organs of thought in the middle of the nineteenth century. At no other time was there so much thinking done with so little cleverness as in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Go back to the twenties of the nineteenth century — only, people do not do this today — or even a little earlier, and read the scientific texts produced then. You will discover that they have an entirely different tone; they do not yet contain the completely abstract thinking of later times which depends on man's physical organs of thought. We need not even mention what came from the pen of people like Herder, Goethe or Schiller; grand conceptions still dwelled in them. It does not matter that people do not believe this today and that commentaries today are written as if this were not the case. For those who write these commentaries and believe that they understand Goethe, Schiller, and Herder simply do not understand them; they do not see what is most important in these men.
It is a fact of great significance that about the middle of the nineteenth century the human organism reached a culmination in respect of its physical form and that since that time it has been regressing; indeed, in regard to a rational comprehension of the world it is regressing rapidly in a certain sense.
This fact is closely connected with the development of materialism in the middle of the nineteenth century. For what is the human organism? The human organism is a faithful copy of man's soul-spiritual nature. It is not surprising that people who are incapable of insight into the soul and spirit of man see in the structure of the human organism an explanation of the whole human being. This is particularly the case when one takes into special consideration the organization of the head, and in the head in turn the organization of the nerves.
In the course of my lectures in Stuttgart, [Note 2] I mentioned an experience that is really suited to throw light on this point. It happened at the beginning of the twentieth century in a gathering of the Giordano Bruno Society of Berlin [Note 3]. First, a man spoke — I would call him a stalwart champion of materialism — who was a most knowledgeable materialist. He knew the structure of the brain as well as anyone can know it today who has studied it conscientiously. He was one of those who see in the analysis of the brain's structure already the full extent of psychology — those who say that one need only know how the brain functions in order to have a grasp on the soul and to be able to describe it. It was interesting; on the blackboard, the man drew the various sections of the brain, the connecting strands, and so on, and thus presented the marvelous picture one obtains when one traces the structure of the human brain. And this speaker firmly believed that by having given this description of the brain he had described psychology. After he had finished speaking, a staunch philosopher, a disciple of Herbart, [Note 4] rose up and said, “The view propounded by this gentleman, that one can obtain knowledge of the soul merely by explaining the structure of the brain, is one I must naturally object to emphatically. But I have no cause to take exception to the drawing the speaker has made. It fits in quite well with my Herbartian point of view, namely, that ideas form associations with one another, and connecting strands of a psychic character run from one idea to another.” He added that as a Herbartian, he could quite well make the same drawing, only the various circles and so on would for him not indicate sections of the brain but complexes of ideas. But the drawing itself would remain exactly the same!
A most interesting situation! When it is a matter of getting down to the reality of a subject, these two speakers have diametrically opposed views, but when they make drawings of the same thing, they find themselves obliged to come up with identical drawings, even though one is a wholehearted Herbartian philosopher and the other a staunchly materialistic physiologist.
What is the cause of this? It is in fact this: We have the soul-spirit being of man; we bear it within us. This soul-spirit being is the creator of the entire form of man's organism. It is therefore not surprising that here in the most complete and perfect part of the organism, namely the nervous system of the brain, the replica created by the soul-spirit being resembles the latter in every way. It is indeed true that in the place where man is most of all man, so to speak, namely in the structure of his nerves, he is a faithful replica of the soul-spiritual element. Thus, a person who, in the first place, must always have something the senses can perceive and is content with the replica, actually perceives in the copy the very same thing that is seen in the soul-spiritual original. Having no desire for soul and spirit and only concentrating, as it were, on the replica, he stops short at the structure of the brain. Since this structure of the brain presented itself in such remarkable perfection to the observer of the mid-nineteenth century, and considering the predisposition of humanity at that time, it was extraordinarily easy to develop theoretical materialism.
What is really going on in the human being? If you consider the human being as such — I shall draw an outline of him here — and turn to the structure of his brain, you find that first of all man is, as we know, a threefold being: the limb being, the rhythmic man, and the being of nerves and senses. When we now look at the latter, we have before us the most perfect part of the human being, in a sense, the most human part. In it, the external world mirrors itself (see drawing, red). I shall indicate this reflection process by the example of the perception through the eyes. I could just as well sketch the perceptions coming through the ear, and so on. The external world, therefore, reflects itself in the human being in such a way that we have here the structure of man and in him the reflection of the outer world.
Diagram 2
As long as we consider the human being in this way, we cannot help but interpret him in a materialistic manner, even though we may go beyond the often quite coarse conceptions of materialism. For, on the one hand, we have the structure of the human being; we can trace it in all its most delicate tissue structures. The more closely we approach the head organization, the more we discover a faithful replica of the soul-spiritual element. Then we can follow up the reflection of the external world in the human being. That, however, is mere picture. We thus have the reality of man, on the one hand, traceable in all its finer structural details, and on the other hand we have the picture of the world.
Let us keep this well in mind. We have man's reality in the structure of his organs, and we have what is reflected in him. This is really all that offers itself initially to external sensory observation. Thus, for sensory observation, the following conclusion presents itself. When the human being dies, this whole human structure disintegrates in the corpse. In addition, we have the pictures of the outer world. If you shatter the mirror, nothing can mirror itself any longer; hence, the pictures, too, are gone when the human being has passed through death. Since external sense observation cannot ascertain more than what I have just mentioned, is it not natural to have to say that with death the physical structure of the human being disintegrates? Formerly, it reflected the outer world. Human beings bear but a mirror-image in their soul and it passes away. Materialism of the nineteenth century simply presented this as a fact. It could not do otherwise, for it really had no knowledge of anything else.
Now the whole matter changes when we begin to turn our attention to the soul and spirit life of man. There, we enter a region which is inaccessible to physical sensory observation. Take a fact pertaining to the soul that is near at hand, the simple fact that we confront the outer world by observing it. We observe and perceive objects; then we have them within us in the form of percepts. We also have memory, the faculty of recollection. We can bring up in images from the depths of our being what we experience in the outer world. We know how important memory is for the human being.
Let us consider this set of facts some more. Take these two inner experiences: You look through your eyes at the external world, you hear it with your ears, or in some other way you perceive it with your senses. You are then engaged in an immediately present activity of the soul. This then passes over into your conceptual life. What you have experienced today, you can raise up again a few days later out of the depths of your soul in pictures. Something enters into you in some manner and you bring it up again out of your own being. It is not difficult to recognize that what enters into the soul must originate in the external world. I do not wish to consider anything else for the moment except the fact that is clearly obvious, namely, that what we thus remember has to come from the outer world. For if you have seen some red object, you remember the red object afterwards, and what has taken place in you is merely the image of the red object which, in turn, arises again in you. It is therefore something the external world has impressed upon you more deeply than if you occupy yourself only with immediate perceptions in the outer world.
Now picture what happens: You approach some object, you observe it, that is to say, you engage in an immediate and present soul activity in regard to the observed object. Then you go away from it. A few days later, you have reason to call up again from the depths of your being the pictures of the observed object. They are present again, paler, to be sure, but still present in you. What has happened in the interval?
Let me ask you here to keep well in mind what I have just said and compare this singular play of immediate perceptual thoughts and pictures of memory with something that is quite familiar to you, the pictures appearing in dreams. You will easily be able to notice how dreaming is connected with the faculty of memory. As long as the dream images are not too confused, you can easily see how they tie in with the memory images, hence, how a relationship exists between dreams and what passes from living perceptions into memory.
Now consider something else. Human beings must be organically completely healthy if they are to tolerate dreaming properly, so to speak. Dreaming requires that a person has himself fully under control and that at any time a moment can occur when he is certain he has been dreaming. Something is out of order when a person cannot come to the point of perceiving quite clearly: This was a dream! You have met people who dreamed they were beheaded. Suppose they could not distinguish afterwards between such a dream and the actual beheading; suppose they thought they really had been beheaded and yet had to go on living! Just imagine how impossible it would be for such people to sort out the facts without becoming totally confused! They would constantly feel that they had just been beheaded, and if they presumed they had to believe this — one can just about imagine what sort of words would break from their lips!
You can see, therefore, that human beings should be able at any moment to have themselves in hand so well that they can distinguish dreams from the thought life within reality. There are people, however, who cannot do this. They experience all kinds of hallucinations and visions and consider them realities. They cannot distinguish; they do not have themselves well enough in hand. What does this signify? It means that what dwells in dream has an influence on their organization, and that the organization is adapted to the dream picture. Something in their nervous system is not fully developed that should be developed; therefore, the dream is active in them and makes its influence felt.
Thus, if someone is not able to distinguish between his dreams and experienced realities, it means that the power of the dream has an organizing effect on him. If a dream were to possess itself of our whole brain, we would see the whole world as a dream! If you can contemplate such a fact and appreciate its full value, you will gradually learn to apprehend the facts to which ordinary science today does not wish to aspire because it lacks the courage to do so. You will learn to perceive that the very same power that energizes the dream life is present in us as organizing and quickening power, as power of growth. The only reason why the dream does not have the power to tear asunder the structure of our organism is that the latter is too strongly consolidated, that it has so firm a structure as to be able to withstand the effects of the ordinary dream. Thus, the human being can distinguish between the dream experience and that of reality.
When the little child grows up, becoming taller and taller, a force is at work in it. It is the same force as the one contained in the dream; only in the case of the dream we behold it. When we do not behold it, when it is instead active inside the body, then it, the very same power that is in the dream, makes us grow. We need not even go so far as to consider growth. Every day, for example, when you eat and digest and the effects of digestion spread throughout your organism, this happens by means of the force that dwells in dreams. Therefore, when something is out of order in the organism, it is connected with dreaming that is not as it should be. The force we can, from the outside, observe working in dream life is the same as the one that then works inwardly in the human being, even in the forces of digestion.
Thus, we can say that if we only consider the life of man in the right way, we become aware of the working of the dream force in his organism. When I describe this actively working dream force, I actually enter upon the same paths in this description that I must tread when I describe the human etheric body.
Imagine that someone were able to penetrate with his vision everything that brings about growth in the human being from childhood on, everything that causes digestion in man, everything that sustains his whole organism in its state of activity. Imagine that I could take this whole system of forces, extracting it from the human being and placing it before him, then I would have placed the etheric body before the human being. This etheric body, that is, the body that reveals itself only in irregularities in a dream, was far more highly developed prior to the point in time in the nineteenth century to which I have referred. Gradually it became weaker and weaker in its structure. In turn, the structure of the physical body grew correspondingly stronger. The etheric body can conceive in pictures, it can have dreamlike imaginations, but it cannot think. As soon as this etheric body begins to be especially active in a person of our time, he becomes a bit clairvoyant, but then he can think less, because, for thinking, he particularly needs the physical body.
Therefore, it need not surprise us that when people of the nineteenth century had the feeling that they could think particularly well, they were actually driven to materialism. For what aided them in this thinking the most was the physical body. But this physical thinking was connected with the special form of memory that was developed in the nineteenth century. It is a memory that lacks the pictorial element and, wherever possible, moves in abstractions.
Such a phenomenon is interesting. I have frequently referred to the professor of criminal anthropology Moritz Benedikt. [Note 5] Today as well, I would like to mention an interesting experience he himself relates in his memoirs. He had to address a meeting of scientists, and he reports that he prepared himself for this speech for twenty-two nights, not having slept day or night. On the last day before giving the address, a journalist who was supposed to publish the speech came to see him. Benedikt dictated it to him. He says that he had not written down the address at all, having merely impressed it onto his memory. He now dictated it to the journalist in his private chamber; the following day he gave this speech at the meeting of scientists. The journalist printed what he had taken down from dictation, and the printed speech agreed word for word with the speech Benedikt delivered at the meeting.
I must confess, such a thing fills me with admiration, for one always admires what one could never find possible to accomplish oneself. This is indeed a most interesting phenomenon! For twenty-two days, the man worked to incorporate, word for word, what he had prepared into his organization, so that in the end he could not possibly have uttered a single sentence out of the sequence impressed onto his system, so firmly was it imbedded!
Such a thing is possible only when a person is able to imprint the whole speech into his physical organism purely out of the gradually developing wording. It is actually a fact that what one thinks out in this way stamps itself onto one's organization as firmly as the force of nature firmly builds up the bone system of man. Then, the whole speech rests like a skeleton in the physical organism. As a rule, memory is tied to the etheric body, but in this case the latter has imbedded itself completely in the physical organism. The entire physical system then contains something in the way it contains the bones, something that stands there like the skeleton of the speech. Then it is possible to do what Professor Benedikt did. But this is only possible when the nerve structure of the physical organism is developed in such a way that it receives without resistance into its plasticity what is brought into it; gradually, of course, for twenty-two days, even nights, it had to be worked in.
It is not surprising that somebody who relies so much on his body acquires the feeling that this physical body is the only thing working in the human being. Human life had indeed taken such a turn that it worked its way completely into the physical body; people therefore arrived at the belief that the physical body is everything in the human organization. I do not think that any other age but ours, which has attached this high value on the physical body, could have come to such a grotesque invention — forgive the expression — as stenography. Obviously, when people did not rely as yet on stenography, they did not attach so great a value to preserving and accurately recording words and the sequence of words such as is the aim in stenography. After all, only the imprint in the physical body can make so fast and firm a record. It is therefore the predilection for imprinting something in the physical body that has brought about the other preference for preserving this imprinted word, but by no means for retaining anything that stands one level higher. For stenography could play no part if we wished to preserve those forms that express themselves in the etheric body. It takes the materialistic tendency to invent something as grotesque as shorthand.
All this, of course, is added only by way of explanation of what I wish to contribute to the problem of understanding the appearance of materialism in the nineteenth century. Humanity had arrived at a certain condition that tended to engrain the soul-spiritual into the physical organism. You must take what I have said as an interpretation, not as a criticism of stenography. I do not favor the immediate abolition of stenography. This is never the tendency underlying such characterizations. We must clearly understand that just because one understands something, this does not imply that one wishes to abolish it right away! There are many things in the world that are necessary for life and that yet cannot serve all purposes — I do not want to go further into this subject — and the need for which still has to be comprehended. But we live in an age, and I have to emphasize this again and again, when it is absolutely necessary to penetrate more deeply into the development of nature as well as into that of culture, to be able to ask ourselves: Where does this or that phenomenon come from? For mere carping and criticizing accomplish nothing. We really have to understand all the things that go on in the world.
I would like to sum up what I presented today in the following way. The evolution of mankind shows that in the middle of the nineteenth century a certain culmination was reached in the process of the structural completion of the physical body. Already now, a decadence has set in. Further, this perfection of the physical body is connected with the rise of theoretical materialism. In the next few days, I shall have to say more about these matters from one or another viewpoint. I wished to place before you today what I have just summed up.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Lead me from the unreal to the real


Rudolf Steiner:  "Religious life must be something direct, it must be something elementary, entirely connected to human nature, which lives out of the elementary, most inward foundation of human nature. All philosophic thinking is a reflection, and is distanced from this direct, elementary experience. If I might express a personal impression, it would be this: When someone philosophizes about the religious life and believes that a philosophical foundation is necessary for religious life, then it always seems to me to be similar to when one wants to turn to the physiology of nutrition in order to attain nourishment oneself. Isn't it true, one can determine the exact foundations of nutritional science but that means nothing for nutrition itself. Nutritional science elucidates nutrition, but nutrition must surely have a sound foundation, it must grow roots in reality; only then can one philosophize about nutrition. So also, the religious life must have roots in reality. It must come to existence out of reality; only when it is there can one philosophize about it. It is certainly not possible at all to substantiate or justify the religious life with some or other philosophic consideration."

Lead me from the unreal to the real.

Lead me from darkness to the light.

Lead me from mortality to immortality.

Source: September 26, 1921. GA 343. Foundation Course, p. 3

Saturday, July 29, 2023

13 ways of looking at my guru. # ±1


Related post:

The Mission of the New Revelation of the Spirit — What the world needs now is anthroposophy


Introductory Comments to the Lecture Cycle 

The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity


Rudolf Steiner, Copenhagen, June 5, 1911:

In the next few days I will have the opportunity to speak here about a theosophical subject that is important to me, namely, the spiritual guidance of the individual and humanity. Since our friends here have asked me to, I will preface my lecture series today with a few comments that may serve as a kind of introduction to the subject.

Theosophists must have as a characteristic what we may call an inherent yearning for self-knowledge in the broadest sense. Even people only slightly familiar with theosophy can sense that such self-knowledge will give birth to a a comprehensive appreciation for all human feeling and thinking as well as for all other beings. This appreciation must be an indispensable part of our whole theosophical movement.

Often people do not understand clearly that in our German theosophical movement what lights up our way is the sign you know as the mark of the Cross with Roses. It is easy to harbor misunderstandings about our spiritual, theosophical movement that seeks to live into the spiritual life of today — that is, into our hearts and their feelings, our will and its deeds — under the sign of the Rose Cross. People easily misunderstand our movement. Many people, even those with good intentions, have difficulty realizing that our spiritual movement, working under the sign of the Rose Cross, is inspired in all its principles — in its whole feeling and sensitivity — to be understanding and tolerant of every human striving and every aspiration. Though this tolerance is an inherent characteristic of the Rosicrucian movement, it may not be obvious at first glance, because it lies in its depths. You will find, therefore, that people who confuse tolerance with the one-sided acceptance of their own opinions, principles, and methods are particularly likely to misunderstand our movement.

It is very easy to imagine this tolerance; yet to attain it is extremely difficult. After all, we find it easy to believe that people who disagree with us are our opponents or enemies. Similarly, we can easily mistake our own opinion for a generally accepted truth. For theosophy to flourish and be fruitful for the spiritual life of the future, however, we have to meet each other on an all-inclusive basis. Our souls must be filled with profound understanding not only for those who share our beliefs but also for those who, compelled by the circumstances of their own experience, their own path through life, may perhaps advocate the opposite of what we do. The old morality, now on the wane, taught us to love and to be tolerant of those who share our thoughts and feelings. However, with its truth, theosophy will more and more radiate a much more far-reaching tolerance into people's hearts. This more profound tolerance will enable us to meet others with understanding and encouragement and to live in harmony with them, even when their thoughts and feelings differ completely from our own.

This touches upon an important issue. What do people come upon first when they turn to the theosophical movement? What are they compelled to acknowledge first? Normally, the general insight people encounter first when they approach theosophy is the idea of reincarnation and karma — the idea of the continued working of causes from one life into the next. Of course, this is not a dogma for us. Indeed, we may have different opinions about this basic insight. Still, the conviction of reincarnation and karma forces itself upon us right from the start of our acquaintance with theosophy. However, it is a long way from the day we first become convinced of these truths to the moment when we can begin, in some way, to see our whole life in the light of these truths. It takes a long time for the conviction to become fully alive in our soul.

For example, we may meet a person who mocks or even insults us. If we have immersed ourselves in the teaching of reincarnation and karma for a long time, we will wonder who has spoken the hurtful, insulting words our ears have heard. Who has heaped mockery upon us — or even who has raised the hand to hit us? We will then realize that we ourselves did this. The hand raised for the blow only appears to belong to the other person. Ultimately, we cause the other to raise his or her hand against us through our own past karma.

This merely hints at the long path from the abstract, theoretical conviction of karma to the point where we can see our whole life in the light of this idea. Only then do we really feel God within us and no longer experience him only as our own higher self, which teaches us that a tiny spark within us shares in God's divinity. Instead, we learn to be aware of this higher self in such a way that a feeling of unlimited responsibility fills us. We feel responsible not only for our actions, but also for what we suffer, because what we suffer now is after all only the necessary result of what we did in the far-distant past.

Let us experience this feeling pouring into our souls as the warm, spiritual life blood of a new culture. Let us feel how new concepts of responsibility and of love arise and take hold of our souls through theosophy. Let us recognize that it is no empty phrase to claim that the theosophical movement arose in our time because human beings need new moral, intellectual, and spiritual impulses. And let us be aware that a new spiritual revelation is about to pour itself forth into our hearts and our convictions through theosophy, not arbitrarily, but because the new moral impulses and the new concepts of responsibility — and, indeed, the destiny of humanity — require such a new spiritual revelation. Then we can know in an immediate, living way that it has a coherent meaning for the world that the same souls present here now repeatedly lived on earth in the past. We have to ask what this meaning is — why are we incarnated again and again?

We find this meaning when we learn through theosophy that every time we see all the wonders of this world with new eyes in a new body, we get a glimpse of the divine revelations veiled by the sensory world. Or, with our newly formed ears, we can listen to the divine revelation in the world of sound. Thus, we learn that in every new incarnation we can and should experience something new on earth. We understand that some people are destined by karma to announce prophetically what all of humanity will gradually, bit by bit, accept as the meaning of an epoch.

What people in the Theosophical Society — and in the theosophical movement in general — know because of these revelations from the spiritual world has to flow into all aspects of human culture. The souls living in this world now in their physical bodies feel drawn to theosophy because they know that this new element must be added to what human beings have already gained for themselves from the spiritual world in the past. We must keep in mind, however, that in every epoch the whole meaning of the mystery of the universe must be understood anew. Thus, in every epoch we have to meet anew what is revealed to us out of the spiritual worlds.

Our epoch is unique; though people often carelessly characterize every age as one of transition, this term — which is often just an empty phrase — applies in its truest sense to our time. Indeed, an epoch is dawning when we will have to witness many new developments in the evolution of the earth. We will have to think in a new way about many things. In fact, many people still conceive many new things in the old style and the old sense, finding it impossible to grasp the new in a new way. Our old concepts often lag far behind the new revelations.

Let me point out only one example of this. It is often emphasized — and rightly so — that human thinking has made tremendous progress in the last four centuries because it has been able to fathom the physical structure of the universe. Of course, it is only proper to highlight the great achievements of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Bruno, and others. Nevertheless, this has led to an argument that sounds rather clever and goes roughly as follows. Copernicus's ideas have led us beyond the earth into space. In the process, what Giordano Bruno suspected has turned out to be true: our earth is only a small celestial body among countless others. And in spite of this, so the argument goes, we are supposed to believe that the greatest drama ever, the central event of evolution, took place on this earth and that the life of Christ Jesus is at the center of evolution. Why would an event of such great importance for the whole universe have been played out here on this small planet earth, which — as we have learned — is only one tiny planet among countless others?

This argument seems plausible — so much so that to our intellect it looks clever and intelligent. However, this argument does not consider the depth of spiritual perception revealed in the simple fact that the starting point of Christianity, the beginning of the greatest event on earth, is set neither in a royal palace nor any other glamorous place, but in a manger with poor shepherds. Clearly, spiritual perception did not content itself with locating this great event on our earth, but also moved it to a remote corner of the earth. It is small wonder, then, that this perception strikes us as odd and peculiar next to the claim that we cannot possibly continue to “have the greatest drama of world evolution take place in a provincial theater.” (These words have indeed been used.) However, it is in the nature of Christianity to have the greatest drama of the universe take place in a provincial theater as well as elsewhere.

We can see from all this how difficult it is for us to respond to events with the proper, true perception. We have to learn a lot before we will understand what the right thoughts and feelings about human evolution are. Turbulent times are ahead of us — both for the present and for the near future. Much of the old is used up and worn out, and the new is being poured into humanity from the spiritual world. People familiar with human evolution predict — not because they want to but because history compells them — that our whole soul life will change during the coming centuries and that this change will have to begin with a theosophical movement that has a correct understanding of itself. But the theosophical movement must fill its role in this change with humility and with a true understanding of what has to happen for humanity in the coming centuries.

Only gradually and over time did people learn to study the structure of the universe with their intellect as Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Kepler, and Galileo did. It was only in recent centuries that people learned to interpret the world intellectually — in earlier times, they attained knowledge in a very different way. In the same way, new spiritual insights are to supersede intellectual knowledge today. Even now, human souls in their bodies are already yearning to look at the world not just intellectually. If materialism had not done so much to suppress these spiritual impulses, such souls, in whom we can virtually sense the passionate yearning for spiritual contents, could appear even more. These spiritual impulses could then make themselves felt more strongly in people who are only waiting for an opportunity to look at the universe and existence in a different way than they did up to now.

Privileged people, endowed with what we usually call “grace,” can often see in their minds' eyes what becomes the general vision of all humanity centuries later. As I have pointed out frequently, the experience of the impulse of the Christ event that Paul, an individual filled with grace, had on the road to Damascus will eventually become the common property of all human beings. As Paul knew through a spiritual revelation who Christ was and what he had done, so all people will eventually receive this knowledge, this vision. We are at the threshold of the age when many people will experience a renewal of the Christ event of St. Paul. It is an intrinsic part of the evolution of our earth that many people will experience for themselves the spiritual vision, the spiritual eye, that opened up for Paul on the road to Damascus. This spiritual eye looks into the spiritual world, bringing us the truth about Christ, which Paul had not believed when he had heard it in Jerusalem. The occurrence of this event is a historical necessity. This is what has been called the second advent of Christ in the twentieth century. Christ will be recognized as an individuality. People will realize that Christ has continually revealed himself by coming ever closer to the physical plane — from the moment when he appeared to Moses, as though in a reflection, in the burning bush to the time when he lived for three years in a human body. Seeing this, people will understand that Christ is at the center of earthly evolution.

A body has only one center of gravity; a scale has only one suspension point.If you support the scale beam in more than one place, you interfere with the effects of the law of gravity. A body needs only one center of gravity. That is why, concerning the central or pivotal point of evolution, occultists from antiquity to the present have acknowledged that evolution was headed toward one point, namely, the Mystery of Golgotha, and that human evolution began its ascent at this point. Still, it is very difficult to understand what the Christ event, the Mystery of Golgotha, really means for the spiritual guidance of humanity. To understand this rightly, we have to silence all the feelings and opinions from this or that denomination within us. We have to be as impartial and objective in regard to the Christian methods of education, which have prevailed for many centuries in the west, as we are regarding other religious methods of education. Only then can we really come to know the spiritual center of the earth's evolution. Nevertheless, in the coming centuries those who proclaim the spiritual central point of human evolution most fervently will be seen as “bad Christians” — or even as unworthy of being called Christian at all.

Many people find even the idea that Christ could incarnate in a human body only once, and only temporarily — for three years — difficult to understand. People who have familiarized themselves in more detail with what Rosicrucian theosophy has to say about this know that the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth had to be very complicated to accommodate the powerful individuality of Christ. As we know, one human being would not have been sufficient for this, and therefore two persons had to be born. The Gospel of St. Matthew tells the story of one of them, the Gospel of St. Luke follows the life of the other. We know, too, that the individuality who incarnated into the Jesus child we meet in the Gospel of St. Matthew had completed tremendous achievements in its development in earlier earth lives. At the age of twelve, in order to develop further capacities, this “Matthew-Jesus” individuality left its body to dwell in another earthly body — that of the “Luke-Jesus” — until its thirtieth year. Thus, everything humanity had ever experienced that was noble and great, as well as everything that was humble, worked together on the personality of Jesus of Nazareth so as to enable his body to take in the being we call Christ. We will have to develop a profound understanding to grasp what occultists mean when they say that there can be only one event on Golgotha — as in mechanics a body has only one center of gravity.

An epoch that faces great soul events, such as the ones we have briefly outlined here, is particularly suited to lead us to search our souls. Indeed, searching our own souls and hearts is now one of the many tasks of all true theosophists in the theosophical movement. We need to search our own hearts and souls — return within ourselves — to help us realize that it requires sacrifice to follow the path to the understanding of that singular truth of which the occultism of all times has unambiguously spoken.

Such times in which the shining lights of truth and the warm gifts of love are to be poured out over humanity also bring events confirming the truth of the proverb that “strong lights cast deep shadows.” The deep, black shadows that enter together with the gifts we have just spoken of consist of the potential for error. The human heart's susceptibility to error is inseparably bound up with the great gifts of wisdom that are to flow into human evolution. Let us not delude ourselves, therefore, into believing that the erring human soul will be less fallible in times to come than it has been in the past. On the contrary, our souls will be even more susceptible to errors in the future than ever before. Occultists have prophesied this since the dawn of time. In the coming times of enlightenment, to which I could only allude here, the slightest potential for error as well as the greatest aberrations can gain ground. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that we squarely face this potential for error and realize that because we are to expect great things, error can all the more easily creep into our weak human hearts.

Regarding the spiritual guidance of humanity, we have to draw the following lesson from this potential for error and from the age-old warnings of occultists: We must exercise the great tolerance we spoke of in the beginning, and we must give up our habit of blindly believing in authority. Such a blind belief in authority can be a powerful temptation and can lead to error. Instead, we must keep our hearts open and receptive to everything that wants to flow out of the spiritual worlds into humanity in a new way. Accordingly, to be good theosophists, we must realize that if we wish to cultivate and foster in our movement the light that is to stream into human evolution, we must guard against all the errors that can creep in with the light.

Let us feel the full extent of this responsibility and open our hearts wide to see that there has never been a movement on this planet earth that fostered such open, loving hearts. Let us realize that it is better to be opposed by those who believe their opinion is the only true one, than to fight them. It is a long way from one of these extremes to the other. Nevertheless, those who take up the theosophical movement spiritually will be able to live with something that has run through all history as a seed sentence, a motto for all spirituality — and rightly so.

Upon realizing that though there is much light, the potential for error is great, you may have doubts and wonder how we weak human beings can find our way in this confusion. How are we to distinguish between truth and error? When such thoughts arise within you, you will find comfort and strength in the motto: The truth is what leads to the highest and noblest impulses for human evolution, the truth should be dearer to us than we are to ourselves. If our relationship to truth is guided by these words and we still make a mistake in this life, the truth will be strong enough to draw us to itself in the next incarnation. Honest mistakes we make in this incarnation will be compensated and redeemed in the next. It is better to make an honest mistake than to adhere to dogmas dishonestly. After all, our path will be lit by the promise that truth will ultimately prevail, not by our will, but by its own inherent divine power.

However, if our circumstances in this incarnation propel us into error instead of into truth, and if we are too weak to obey when truth pulls us toward itself, then it will be good if what we believe in disappears. For then it does not, and should not, have the strength to live. If we are honestly striving for truth, truth will be the victorious impulse in the world. And if what we have now is a part of the truth, it will be victorious, not because of what we can do for it, but because of the power inherent in it. If what we have is error, however, then let us be strong enough to say that this error should perish.

If we take this as our guiding motto, we will find the standpoint that enables us to realize that, under any circumstances, we can find what we need, namely, confidence. If this confidence imbues us with truth, then the truth will prevail, regardless of how much its opponents fight it. This feeling can live in the soul of every theosophist. And if we are to impart to others what flows down to us from the spiritual world, evoking feelings in human hearts that give us certainty and strength for life, then the mission of the new spiritual revelation will be fulfilled — the revelation that has come to humanity through what we call theosophy to lead human souls gradually into a more spiritual future.

Source: June 5, 1911. GA 15